The young mother returned to work three months after giving birth. She was wracked with guilt over leaving her infant son in the care of strangers, but grudgingly accepted that it was the reality for working parents living in the United States. Tragically, her son died of unknown causes during his first few hours in day care. Are incidents like these in any way connected to the lackluster maternity leave standards in the U.S.? The new documentary Maternity Leave takes a probing look at this issue.
The United States is one of only two countries in the world that does not mandate maternity leave for all working parents. While a small percentage of companies offer up to three months of paid leave following the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 88% of American women are employed by businesses that do not. Lawmakers have been sluggish in their recognition or response to this crisis as many of them believe that more regulations would place an overwhelming burden on the business sector. But what does this say about the country's investment in real family values?
According to the film, the lack of maternity leave options for America's working women impacts the gender wage gap, stress and ill health, poverty, and the overall perception of a woman's value in the workplace. By forcing a new mother to return to work a few days or weeks following her delivery, her infant is deprived of the crucial moments when parental bonds are formed, thereby increasing the probability of troubled youth, rising crime, infant mortality and a future plagued by escalating levels of economic and societal instability.
The filmmakers travel to Sweden, where maternity leave is mandated by the government for up to 60 weeks, and then to Papau New Guinea, which is the only country with lower leave standards than the United States. The contrast between the two countries is startling.
Back in the States, the conversation surrounding paid maternity leave is stifled by bitter partisanship in Washington. But the people have the power to provoke meaningful change. Maternity Leave urges for a unified public outcry over U.S. policies that undermine the interests of working families.